Unity's been hard to come by where Old Town's bar-laden NW 3rd is concerned, but the neighborhood's relatively agreed on this point: Weekend street closures in the "entertainment district" need to end.
The weekly barricades, begun under Mayor Sam Adams and pushed by his successor, have hurt business and made the area unwelcoming, a trio of committees recently found.
Now, Mayor Charlie Hales wants his city council colleagues to approve another year-long extension—with an asterisk.
On Wednesday, Hales will float an ordinance [pdf] that keeps the street closures on the books. There's language in the ordinance about possible experimentation—stuff like the recent project that shut down two lanes of Northwest 3rd for bike and pedestrian use—but no hard changes.
"During this 1-year street closure extension, the PPB and Mayor’s Office will be flexible with both the boundary and time schedule and work with the OTCTCA and immediately test alternatives to mitigate impacts to neighborhood businesses, residents and stakeholders," the document says.
That language may not assuage Old Town/Chinatown's business owners, who formed up under the closures and have said the policy should be allowed to sunset at the end of this month, as scheduled.
"That’s a big deal for us," Dan Lenzen, part owner of Dixie Tavern and one of the founders of the relatively new Old Town Hospitality Group, said last month. "If it's an ordinance it's harder to change. Everybody wants the ordinance to go away."
Well, except for the mayor.
Lenzen's group has pushed allowing a single lane of traffic through the closure area—NW 3rd from Everett to Burnside, and NW Davis and Couch from 2nd to 4th—during the crush of bar traffic on Fridays and Saturdays. Businesses say the barricades give an otherwise bustling bar area a "prison camp" feel. They've advocated longer-term changes, like a "road diet" to cut car lanes and create a more walkable neighborhood. But in the short term, bar owners say, the street closures need alterations.
It's not just bars, either. An advisory committee convened by Hales recently recommended the street closures be killed in their current form. So did the Old Town Chinatown Community Association.
And Hales' office says it takes those recommendations seriously. But it still wants a law on the books.
"We want to go forward with another one year extension, but embedded in that is a commitment to experimentation," says Chad Stover, a project manager in Hales' office. "It’s too early to say whether we’re going to open up one lane of traffic."
One possibility that seems likely: The closures will shrink, stretching from W Burnside to NW Davis instead of NW Everett. That's a solution that's been pushed relentlessly by Old Town Pizza owner Adam Milne, who says his business has been harmed by this experiment.
The street closures were implemented at the very end of Adams' tenure. They've since been extended twice at Hales' urging. A year ago, the mayor pushed for a two-year extension to the project, arguing it had increased safety and cut crime in a problematic area. Hales backed that down to one year amid concerns from neighbors.
Despite controversy, the project has prompted bar and restaurant owners to organize in ways they never have. That effort spurred discussions about changes to the neighborhood, which prompted the organization Better Block PDX to build a "pop-up plaza" in the neighborhood earlier this month. People liked it!
Update, 1:40 pm: Turns out business owners—who had demanded the street closure ordinance be allowed to sunset—are pretty happy with the document Hales' staff has crafted.
"Gotta start somewhere," says Lenzen, who says the ordinance language encouraging experimentation is heartening. The Old Town Chinatown Community Association will support the new ordinance, Lenzen says.